|Agro-industrial sector in Cameroon|
|Supporting NCP(s)||Belgium, Luxembourg|
|Description||Specific instance notified by the NGOs Centre pour le Développement (Cameroon), Fondation Camerounaise d’Actions Rationalisées et Formation sur l’Environnement, SHERPA (France), and MISEREOR (Germany) regarding the business relationships of 4 multinational enterprises with SOCAPALM, a Cameroonian company, operating in Cameroon.|
|Theme(s)||Disclosure, Employment and industrial relations, Environment, General policies|
|Date||3 Dec 2010|
|Industry sector||Agriculture, forestry and fishing|
In December 2010 the NCPs for France, Belgium and Luxembourg received a submission from the NGOs Centre pour le Développement (Cameroon), Fondation Camerounaise d’Actions Rationalisées et Formation sur l’Environnement, SHERPA (France), and MISEREOR (Germany) alleging that a Cameroonian enterprise operating in the palm oil sector was breaching the general policies, disclosure, employment and industrial relations, and environment provisions of the Guidelines in Cameroon.
The allegations related to 4 companies: BOLLORE SA (France), Financière du Champ de Mars (Belgium), SOCFINAL, now SOCFIN, (Luxembourg) and INTERCULTURES, now SOCFINAF SA, (Luxembourg) alleged to be SOCAPALM’s business partners. The NGOs alleged that these companies did not use their leverage regarding social and environmental adverse impacts of SOCAPALM's activities locally.
The French NCP was designated to take the lead, in coordination with the NCPs of Belgium and Luxembourg. It accepted the submission in July 2011 on the basis that the Bolloré Group had a business relationship with Socfin Group and with Socapalm through its minority shareholding and its participation on Socapalm's board. It noted that the other 3 companies were also business partners of Socapalm. The French NCP offered its good offices to the Bolloré Group who refused to engage in dialogue due to libel suits it had filed in January 2011 against one of the submitters (Sherpa) and a French journalist following media coverage of the case.
In June 2012, the Bolloré Group accepted the good offices of the NCP. In June 2013, the French NCP issued a Report in which they make a determination based on the Guidelines and announcing an agreement. The NCP found that Socapalm breached the general policies, employment and industrial relations and environment provisions of the Guidelines in 2010. The NCP also found that the Bolloré Group had not observed the general policies provisions by not using its leverage with its business partners. On the other hand, the NCP noted encouraging steps with Socapalm’s newly adopted programme on quality, health, safety, and environment and its new certification policy (ISO). The NCP announced that the parties entered in mediation in February 2013 to improve the situation for Socapalm’s workers and surrounding communities to negotiate a Roadmap which would be monitored by independent third-parties. At this point, the NCP closed the case and decided to monitor its recommendations.
Under the NCP mediation in September 2013, the Bolloré Group and SHERPA finalised the Roadmap for Socapalm, covering the following issues : Communication between village representatives and Socapalm, land-related issues, environmental issues, public service tasks, local development, the situation of Socapalm workers and subcontractors, amicable settlement of conflicts and transparency of actions undertaken. On 17 March 2014, the NCP issued a follow-up communiqué to announce the content of the Roadmap and its monitoring system.
In a communiqué issued on 2 March 2015, the NCP reported on difficulties to implement the Roadmap and called on Socapalm partners, notably Bolloré and Socfin Groups, to assume their responsibilities and resume all efforts to improve the situation locally. It also called on the NCPs of Belgium and Luxembourg to engage in talks with the SOCFIN Group, Socapalm’s parent company.
In a follow-up statement issued on 18 May 2016, the French NCP announced a new phase of the referral: the French NCP ends following-up its recommendations to the Bolloré Group and transfers the leadership of the referral to the Belgian NCP in order to interact with the Socfin Group, and asks parties to report back within 12 months.
The French NCP reported on the mixed results obtained so far: the Bolloré Group used its influence in its business relationships, but Socapalm’s Roadmap has not yet been formally implemented. Socfin made commitments related to corporate social responsibility and recently agreed to enter into a dialogue with the Belgian NCP hence opening a new chapter in the submission. Meanwhile, the French NCP understands the frustration of the Socapalm workers and communities, the NCP deems that its action has had repercussions, and it observes that the centre of gravity for the remediation has shifted from the Bolloré Group to the Socfin Group. In these new circumstances, the French NCP feels it necessary to keep the pressure on to achieve the Roadmap’s objectives, and: